we are stars wrapped in skin
the light you are seeking has always been within

A century after women attained the right to be educated, to work outside the home, and to vote, regression to anti-feminism has been nearly achieved. 

Girls are encouraged to compete for male attention by showing as much skin as possible, both on social media and off. 
“Believe all women”—because women are helpless and lack the capacity to lie.
Women must adhere to the leftist orthodoxy because we have no ability to think on our own. 
Elect any fully woke woman no matter her qualifications because women aren’t smart enough to be judged by anything other than Instaporn selfies. 
What’s wrong with women twerking on national TV or selling our bodies to strangers? 
What’s wrong with biological males playing on women’s sports teams? 
What’s wrong with biological males sharing a bathroom or shower with women? 
Just shut up and take it.

The “patriarchy,” for all of its flaws, was based on power, not degradation and misogyny. Leftism, hip hop culture, and millennial narcissism have created a misogynistic world where girls and women humiliate themselves on an hourly basis. The resulting spike in female depression, self-harm, and suicide is unconscionable. Yet it rarely gets mentioned.

In fact, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez cheers it all on with selfies that would make Betty Friedan cringe. She is the icon of today’s anti-feminism: unwilling to learn history or facts; eager to make her looks and provocative poses the most important aspect of her being; blissfully unaware of her glaring lack of qualifications. 

It’s well past time to reclaim the feminism that our great-grandmothers fought to achieve. That feminism meant freedom—but it also entailed personal responsibility and self-respect. That feminism envisioned strong, dignified women—whether they stayed home to raise their children or ran for president. But before we can reclaim that feminism, we need to fully understand what went wrong in the past fifty years.

The fallacies of anti-feminism

The worst setbacks began with Second and Third Wave feminism in the 1970s and ‘80s, which promulgated six fallacies: 

Second and Third Wave feminists actually restricted women’s freedom by adding onto feminism a set of doctrinaire politics, a list of acceptable behaviors, even fashion choices. 

And then it got worse. Today’s Fourth Wave feminism—intersectional, leftist feminism—promotes the absurd notion that biology itself is a social construct. The result: the “patriarchy,” which does in fact still exist in countries leftist feminists never talk about, has given way to an increasingly repressive Gender Industrial Complex.

The meaning of the word “gender” has morphed beyond its traditional use in grammar to become a politically constructed term weaponized against women. This notion of gender, no longer the same as being biologically female or male, privileges an emotional state over physical reality. The Gender Industrial Complex tells those who “identify” as female: who to like, who to hate, which ideas to regurgitate, what colors to wear, which pronouns to use, which films not to see—and most important: how to shut down anyone who disagrees with you.

Under the GIC, biology is not only an illusion but it can be easily morphed to suit one’s political needs. The most substantial effect: girls and women are being forced to live in a misogynistic hip hop song—and no one sees this as anti-feminist. Since females have no special hormones or body parts, we can be objectified to suit the reigning political dogma. Oversexualization, mass degradation, trans rape—all are things we must simply accept.

Feminism means freedom. That’s it. The right of each woman to be herself: unique, complex, imperfect.

The trans co-optation of everything female—the complete erasure of women—was merely the final nail in the coffin of feminism. As Christine Rosen put it in Commentary: “The claim that anyone can be a woman is a denigration of all women.” 

Feminism means freedom

So let’s start over. Feminism means freedom. That’s it. The right of each woman to be herself: unique, complex, imperfect. “We intend simply to be ourselves,” declared Marie Jenney Howe in the early 20th century. “Not just our little female selves, but our whole big human selves.” Howe was the founder of Heterodoxy, a Greenwich Village group that demanded only that its female members think for themselves—as individuals.

In its zeal to abolish women’s “little” femaleness, the women’s movement ended up trapping women in a massive collective identity—with ever-consuming multitudes of “gender” rules, terms, and regulations. Women’s ability “simply to be ourselves” was thoroughly undermined in the process.

Feminism is not about following a set of rules or politics imposed by the woke group du jour.

Feminism is not about voting for a woman just because she’s a woman.
Feminism is not about legislating equal numbers of judges or CEOs. 

Feminism is not about exploiting your sexuality when it’s useful.
Feminism is not about destroying a man’s career because of a compliment.
Feminism never demanded that women ditch our babies three months after giving birth. 

Feminism is not about empowering women through victimhood—or shutting down all voices of disagreement.

When I was a writer and editor at The New Republic in my 20s, real feminism spoke to me. Having left a somewhat sheltered suburban home in Philadelphia, my focus was on discovering who exactly I was—even if that meant annoying some of the more proper ladies of D.C. with my miniskirts and fishnet stockings. As well, I wanted to prove my intellectual equality in a very male-dominated office.

What is feminism? The freedom for women to become the unique individuals that we are; the spaces to allow that freedom; the removal of societal demands to enslave us.

But then along came the idea of “pantsuit nation,” and I was like: wait, what? Why do I have to dress or act like a guy? No, I did not want to sleep with every guy I met. No, I didn’t like being told what to think or how to act. And perhaps worst of all: the relentless emphasis on the political—and the complete lack of emphasis on self-strengthening—failed to prepare me for toxic people and situations, which became all-pervasive as leftism took control of the country.

What is feminism? The freedom for women to become the unique individuals that we are; the spaces to allow that freedom; the removal of societal demands to enslave us.

Individualism vs. identity

At the core of classical feminism—just like at the core of classical liberalism—is individualism. Women are individuals. Yes, we share the identity of being women, but we don’t all think or feel or act alike. 

It’s not always easy to be yourself. In fact, in times like these when conformity is trending, it can be very difficult. But instead of maintaining a focus on individualism, feminism came to mean “sisterhood,” which soon came to mean conforming to every aspect of the leftist orthodoxy.

The one part of a shared identity that leftist activists should have focused on was our shared biology. Not only are there biological differences between the sexes, but female hormones like estrogen create many of the thoughts and feelings that are geared to ensure the survival of humanity. The 1848 Seneca Falls Declaration, written by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, stated unequivocally that women were different from men but no less equal. 

Through the decades, Christine Rosen writes, “Despite considerable disagreement, no one before had denied women the reality of their own biological existence.” Until now. 

Every parent is aware of biological differences; those who deny them are outright lying. One day at a New York City playground when my son was around four, there was a great deal of construction on the other side of the fence. Nearly all the boys ran to stand on the benches so they could check out the action. Not one girl did so.

This is not to say that some girls aren’t interested in construction or other typically male interests. Social scientists use bell curves—the peak represents the majority of men or women—to show our biologically based pursuits. Natural female hormones explain maternal instincts and thus why women, in general, tend to be more compassionate, empathetic, and nurturing, as well as less aggressive, combative, and competitive. The bell curves for most attributes look very different for males and females—but there will always be some women who are, for example, naturally more aggressive than some men.

Because of hormone levels—biology—most women probably shouldn’t play professional football; some women probably shouldn’t run large companies; and yes: some women probably shouldn’t be mothers. The larger point: biological differences are not socially constructed. They stem from evolution and are passed along genetically.

What bell curves don’t mean is that we exist along a “gender spectrum.” I am a female; I have two X chromosomes. Males have one X and one Y. The weaponization of “gender” for political purposes cannot change these biological facts. Dress however you want; have sex with whomever you want; call yourself whatever you want. But don’t impose your highly specified identity on the rest of us, especially when it leads to injustice (males replacing females in sports) and unsafe spaces (males showering with females). 

Women were lied to for centuries. The Gender Industrial Complex represents yet another form of the bigotry of low expectations. Sorry, but we’re not dumb; we know you’re lying.

With rights come responsibilities

After individualism, the most important component of both liberalism and feminism is personal responsibility. A woman’s foremost responsibility is to herself. This means self-respect, but it also means women shouldn’t act or be treated like children or perennial victims.

The notion of personal responsibility began to disappear when the phrase “the personal is political” was introduced in the 1970s. Initially this meant that laws regarding rape and domestic violence needed to be strengthened—and they did. But the focus was soon extended to include all facets of life, from flirting to miniskirts.

Just as with classical liberalism, you can’t have freedom without responsibility. Why? Well, who else should take responsibility for our lives? The government? Our husbands? Our dates?

By hyper-focusing on the “political,” which came to mean the “patriarchy” and then all of society, women were essentially told to not even look at the personal. As a result, developing our inner strength—a key component of true feminism—was completely lost. Inner strength builds self-respect, and self-respect sets a high bar for how you treat yourself and how you allow others to treat you.

The effect of all of this has been largely unreported. Women stay in abusive relationships; allow men to cheat on them; indulge in daily Instaporn; succumb to hook-up culture, which is essentially a form of self-harm. As well, the obsessive focus on the “political” seems to have occluded basic common sense. Women should know not to go to the hotel room of a well-known philanderer; not to dress provocatively for a business meeting; not to expose their bodies on social media. And yet far too many do.

Right now, any woman can destroy a man within seconds—by merely describing or fabricating an awkward pass. Is this empowerment—or is it the same passive-aggressiveness we’ve spent a half-century trying to overcome?

The #MeToo movement made everything worse. The underlying premise of many of the non-assault #MeToo cases is actually quite unfeminist: it is based on the false notion that all women become helpless in difficult situations. Sadly, many women do. But that’s not the fault of “the patriarchy.” It is largely the fault of the feminist establishment for, essentially, teaching victimhood rather than strength.

Denying that harassment, even workplace harassment, is complex, that women have responsibility for our own behavior—that life isn’t perfect—doesn’t serve anyone’s interests. 

Right now, any woman can destroy a man within seconds—by merely describing or fabricating an awkward pass. Is this empowerment—or is it the same passive-aggressiveness we’ve spent a half-century trying to overcome?

For feminist leaders in the past three decades, personal responsibility were dirty words. Why? Because focusing on a woman’s responsibility, they said, would take the focus off “the patriarchy.”

We don’t live in a patriarchy. 

Anyone who seriously thinks we still live in a patriarchy—where men control and oppress us—needs to visit countries like Iran or Pakistan. Indeed, this is another great irony of today’s feminist leaders: they have entirely ignored Muslim women, who must endure everything from the compulsory hijab and forced, child marriage to female genital mutilation and honor killings. This should be at the top of Western feminists’ priority list. Instead, it never gets mentioned.  

The obsessive focus on “gender identity” has also trumped the very real political problems women still face: rape, domestic violence, trafficking, single motherhood. Indeed, the Gender Industrial Complex has enforced a systemic erasure of women’s real political problems.

Strong femininity empowers

Second and early Third Wave feminists attempted to make women feel ashamed of our femininity and sexuality—to neuter women. Leaving aside the fact that real feminism had no interest in neutering women, a neutered woman is by definition a less empowered woman. Being at one with our femininity and sexuality is an integral aspect of our strength and self-esteem. 

The 1960s sexual revolution gave women permission to finally take ownership of our sexuality. And by taking ownership—by feeling it and knowing that it doesn’t undermine our ability to run companies or fly planes—women were made whole in a way that we hadn’t been since hunter-gatherer times.

But. It needs to be a responsible sexuality. It’s not about sleeping our way to the top; going to a man’s hotel room and then claiming victimhood; wearing scanty clothes at inappropriate times.
Sexuality, true sexuality, comes from within—from self-respect and confidence.

Femininity empowers through restraint: just because we can do something doesn’t mean we should.

Sexuality is part of a strong femininity—where women are in control of not just our sexuality but also our emotions. Pre-feminism, women had no choice but to succumb to a weak femininity, where their emotions often consumed them. 

Second Wave feminists believed that femininity distracts from our minds, but the opposite is actually true. Femininity empowers through restraint: just because we can do something doesn’t mean we should. 

And such strong femininity can’t just be bought or tied on your head. It needs to be developed, through hard work. Which is why the complete disregard of women’s personal growth in the past forty years has been so appalling.

Leftists have also promoted an anti-feminist disdain for motherhood and child rearing. Democratic activist Elizabeth Spiers now famously called her son in the New York Times an “alien” and the natural hormones that beautifully flood a mother’s brain: “biological brainwashing.” AOC calls childbirth “forced birth.” As I said, some women shouldn’t be mothers.

Women’s sexuality is a key to our strength—but only if we’re in control of it. Everyone except women now control our sexuality.

Sexuality is sacred

I recently dropped my son, now 12, off at a fancy Saturday evening party. I think it’s safe to say that the young girls were wearing two band-aids—one around their chests; another around their hips. Both band-aids refused to stay in place, so they spent most of their time pulling them up or down to cover what could be covered.

Who owned their burgeoning sexuality—the girls themselves or every person who stared at them?

To be clear: women’s sexuality is a key to our strength—but only if we’re in control of it. I still wear miniskirts. When I feel sexy, I feel strong. But that’s because I’m in control. A woman could feel equally sexy in more modest clothing: the key is the self-respect that comes from being in control. 

Today, hook-up culture, hyper-sexualized selfies, the faux “sex positive” agenda, and the GIC have again removed women’s control over our own sexuality. Everyone except women now control our sexuality.

Hip hop culture merely offers a slightly more extreme version of today’s sexual subjugation. Women are referred to as bitches and ‘hos; slapped around; told to shut up and take it. Then women destroy any remaining shred of dignity by twerking an inch in front of a camera.

One of the many disastrous fallouts of the “no biological differences” insanity was that women were told that they must act like men in the romantic and sexual realms. In denying our evolutionary feminine wiring, women were forced to view sex as just another activity—to deactivate natural feelings of needing to connect sex with love.

Thus began the hook-up culture of the past three decades, which not surprisingly has had disastrous effects on women’s self-esteem, to the point where some women actually use sex as a form of self-harm. 

Without this cultural brainwashing, it should be assumed that women think about sex differently from men. This doesn’t mean that women don’t think about sex. This doesn’t mean that women don’t love sex as much as men do. What it means is that women are evolutionarily built to connect our emotions to sex. 

So while some women have no problem with today’s hook-up culture—where sex is typically expected upon a first meeting—many other women, as hard as they try, can’t do it without feeling lousy afterward. Instead of seeing this as a special aspect of being a woman, leftists today blame this lousy feeling on men—either on a particular man or again on “the patriarchy.” 

Truly owning your sexuality also means not broadcasting it to the world or imposing it on others. Today, I see women on social media who are the furthest from owning their sexuality—the guys who are “hearting” their boob and crotch shots own it. Incessant external validation erodes any shred of self-respect. 

In another linguistic perversion, “sex positivity” has come to mean embracing polyamory, BDSM, porn for kids, “sex work”—anything and everything that makes sex violent, ugly, and soulless. It should really be called sex negativity because all of it degrades and humiliates women. 

As Phyllis Chesler writes: prostitution is “the most extreme form of violence against women.” But sexual slavery and trafficking never gets mentioned by “sex-positive” activists.

What is real sex positivity? Understanding that our sexuality is sacred. That owning it—feeling at one with it—is fundamental to a woman’s self-confidence. That it is such an integral part of our identities, it should be treasured and kept private. 

Sensuality is an essential part of nature—but you don’t immediately see it. That is the essence of sacred sexuality.

The most empowered thing a young woman can say to any guy hitting on her: You like me? Court me.

Courtship + chivalry

Masculinity is not inherently toxic, just as femininity is not inherently toxic. But it can turn toxic. Raising a boy has shown me the role parents, coaches, and teachers play in restraining aggression and impulsiveness.

Parents need to teach their sons to be proud of their strengths and abilities—but to always have manners and respect. It’s not easy but it’s doable; again, it lies in the element of restraint. But non-toxic masculinity also requires bringing back two concepts that leftists have trashed: chivalry and courtship.

The most empowered thing a young woman can say to any guy hitting on her: You like me? Court me.

According to anthropologist Helen Fisher, courtship has historically served as a perseverance test, allowing women to figure out if men are strong and assertive enough to commit to a long-term relationship, pass on good genes, provide for offspring, and ward off danger. Basic aspects of courtship—males wooing females with gifts of food—turn up throughout the animal world as well.

Today, of course, women no longer need men to acquire resources or protect us. But our brains are still hard-wired to focus on self-preservation— to want a man who shows sustained interest. Courtship also forces women to keep our own feelings in check.

Chivalry doesn’t reinforce “inferiority.” It’s good manners. Both courtship and chivalry train men to act like gentlemen. A man can see a woman as his equal yet still treat her differently—there’s nothing sexist about that. In fact, it shows respect.

Don’t men have any responsibility here? Of course. Just because we no longer live in a patriarchy doesn’t mean that men, as individuals, don’t have a lot of work to do. I’m wary when I read conservatives talk about returning to the ‘50s and the Era of the Gentleman. Sure, many men in the ‘50s had good manners in public, but we are all too aware of what often went on inside the home or inside the office. 

We want men to treat women with respect—not just to keep up appearances. We want men to treat women with respect because it’s the right thing to do. 

But here’s the thing: we don’t need to dump masculinity to make this happen. Masculinity is not toxic. Uncivilized masculinity is toxic. Civilized masculinity ends wars. Civilized masculinity moves mountains. Civilized masculinity is, well, sexy. 

Beauty is not a myth

One of the many inane theories promulgated in the ‘90s was that men’s desire for beauty is “culturally constructed.” Anyone with even a passing knowledge of evolution knows that men are attracted to certain features—clear skin, shiny hair—because they signify youth and health and thus fertility. By promulgating the “beauty myth,” activists like Naomi Wolf did women a tremendous disservice, setting them up for gratuitously painful rejections and not accepting that this is a part of life.

When social media arrived and women began to post iPhone-filtered images of themselves, young women were caught completely off guard, believing these faux, cartoonishly unrealistic images equaled reality. Because Fourth Wave feminists were too busy constructing identities, no one was there to help. Depression, self-harm, and suicide ensued. 

Beauty is not a myth; it’s not a cultural construct. Beauty is an evolutionary fact—a harsh reality that only gets harsher with age. And not all women are born with a high level of evolutionary beauty; that too is a fact. Women need to accept these realities—but also understand that what they’re doing today by incessantly posting filtered selfies is making the problem significantly worse.

Because here is the good news: there are three elements that can be more powerful than evolutionary beauty: feeling at one with your sexuality; elegance—the way you carry yourself in the world; and beauty of the soul. 

It’s well past time to reteach women that we are fully in control of our bodies and our destinies—that no one, no matter how they mask their misogyny, has the right to re-shackle us.

Liberalism rests on the principles of nature, in this case the seasons of life. Leaves become more beautiful before they die. Why? Their appearance becomes a mirror to their resilience and their souls.

The 21st century woman

The goal of feminism was to unshackle women—to allow us to engage in the world as strong, responsible adults. It’s well past time to reteach women that we are fully in control of our bodies and our destinies—that no one, no matter how they mask their misogyny, has the right to re-shackle us. 

And so I propose the beginning of a new, Fifth Wave of feminism. We can call it rational feminism or independent feminism or non-conformist feminism. Or we can just call it feminism because it would finally bring feminism back to its original meaning.

The key components are freedom, personal responsibility, and individualism, with a strong emphasis on personal growth—building the inner strength that leads to self-respect, resilience, and dignity.

No one has the right to encourage girls to degrade themselves through Instaporn, hook-up culture, or prostitution. No one has the right to tell women that they can’t prioritize motherhood and family. No one has the right to tell women that they must use the same bathroom or shower as—or compete against—a biological male.

But ultimately it is up to each woman to take responsibility for our choices and our lives. With rights come responsibilities; just because we can do something doesn’t mean we should. Taking responsibility for our lives ensures our freedom: that is the essence of both classical liberalism and feminism.

The 21st century woman is strong, free, unique, and responsible. She knows she’s imperfect. But that’s OK; so is nature. At her best, she embodies an unshackled dignity and a soul of beauty.